Early days yet, but Wexford’s hurlers are in a good place.
Tucked in behind Clare with six points to their name in Group B of Division One, Davy Fitzgerald’s Leinster champions are all but qualified for the knockout stages ahead of this weekend’s trip across the border by their neighbours from Carlow.
Even better is the fact that Fitzgerald has used the crammed spring schedule to war game, testing whether he has the squad to navigate the similarly tight round robin that awaits in the provincial championship.
It’s a win-win situation and it’s not unreasonable then to wonder if a side that claimed a provincial title and maybe should have reached an All-Ireland final last year is perfectly positioned to make an even more forceful stab at the greatest prize of them all this summer.
Rory O’Connor isn’t thinking that way. Yet.
“Not at this stage of the year anyway. The league is our first target and we will look after our own problems first. Sure you don’t know, we’d drawn games in Leinster [last summer] and could have been knocked out. If [Kilkenny’s] Conor Fogarty had put a point over the bar here at Wexford Park we could have been out of the championship, so the All-Ireland series is miles away from us.”
It’s a fair point and one he returned to when adding that the only opposition they actually defeated in last year’s provincial group stage was Carlow. That said, there have been clear signs of a growing maturity in Wexford under Fitzgerald.
The two-point win against Dublin last Saturday certainly improved their league stats but Fitzgerald was openly dubious about what, if anything, else he could take out of a game that was ruined by 13 yellow cards, three reds and 50 or so frees.
Such heavy-handed officiating has been decried all week after a similarly punitive atmosphere for Cork-Limerick at Páirc Uí Chaoimh and this has come at the worst possible time for those advocates of the black card motion for hurling due at Congress this week.
O’Connor was victim to the kind of foul for which the black card is envisaged when, during last year’s Leinster final, he was hauled down by Kilkenny’s Enda Morrissey when through on goal late on and Mark Fanning scored a crucial goal from the penalty spot.
“I probably didn’t have any energy to put the ball in the goal at that stage, happy enough to be taken down,” he laughed.
“No, look, I don’t have any strong opinion on it. I just like the way hurling is being played at the moment. I like the way it is being reffed.
“Defenders are getting very good at defending. That’s a reason why there isn’t the amount of goals that there used to be.
“Goalkeepers are getting top-class too. Personally, I’ve never had an issue.
“I’ve never been angry at being taken down. I haven’t really came across proper cynical play.”